This week’s article summary from The Atlantic is 6-Year-Old Girls Already Have Gendered Beliefs About Intelligence.
Teachers have been aware of the negative effects of gender stereotyping since the 1960s. Veteran educators remember the influence the book Reviving Ophelia had in urging teachers to be more cognizant of empowering girls in the classroom.
Although the research findings below were not surprising to me since we still live in a male-centric society, how early gender stereotyping occurs and its deleterious effect on female students were.
The end of the article asks who is responsible for female students continuing to believe that boys are smarter and that math and science are subjects for boys, not girls.
The culprit is a combination of factors led by an overarching societal norm reinforced by the media that consequently overtly and covertly influences our own attitudes and beliefs.
I know I’m fall prey to implicit gender bias (as well as other biases), but I try to be aware of always stressing how females have been and will be leaders, athletes, scientists, etc.
I’ve seen much positive change in my lifetime yet as the study below attests, the is much more room for growth.
“There are lots of people at the place where I work, but there is one person who is really special. This person is really, really smart. This person figures out how to do things quickly and comes up with answers much faster and better than anyone else. This person is really, really smart.”
Linn Bian, a psychologist at the University of Illinois, read this story out to children, aged 5 to 7. She then showed them pictures of four adults—two men and two women—and asked them to guess which was the protagonist of the story. She also gave them two further tests: one in which they had to guess which adult in a pair was “really, really smart”, and another where they had to match attributes like “smart” or “nice” to pictures of unfamiliar men and women.
The results were stark. Among the 5-year-olds, both boys and girls associated brilliance with their own gender. But among those aged 6 or 7, only the boys still held to that view.
At an age when girls tend to outperform boys at school, and when children in general show large positive biases towards their own in-groups, the girls became less likely than boys to attribute brilliance to their own gender.
You could frame that as a good thing: While boys continued to believe in their own brilliance, the girls, on average, developed a more equal view. But that view has consequences—Bian also found that the older girls were less interested in games that were meant for “really, really smart” children.
The stereotype that brilliance and genius are male traits is common among adults. In various surveys, men rate their intelligence more favorably than women, and in a recent study of college undergraduates, men overrated the abilities of male students above equally talented and outspoken women.
But Bian’s study shows that the seeds of this pernicious bias are planted at a very early age. By the age of 6, boys and girls are already diverging in who they think is smart.
“The stereotype has an immediate impact,” Bian adds. “In the long-term it will steer away many young women from careers that are thought to require brilliance.”
“Not only do we need to break down the ‘science is male’ stereotype, but now we need to break down a ‘brilliance is male’ stereotype, too.”
Why do these beliefs occur? It’s not to do with actual ability. At that age, girls tend to outclass their male peers—and the girls in Bian’s study knew it. When she showed them pictures of four children and asked them to guess who got the best grades, the older girls were actually more likely to pick girls than the older boys were to pick boys. “Everyone agreed that girls do better in school but that didn’t seem to matter,” says Bian.
Why? Parents, perhaps? Parents tend to think that their sons are brighter than their daughters, and they’re 2.5 times more likely to do a google search for “Is my son gifted?” than “Is my daughter gifted?” Their teachers could be another font of stereotypes. So could the characters in the movies they see and the books they read.
“We have to be more deliberate about presenting examples of brilliant women to girls and boys as young as five to help them avoid developing this association. Brilliant women exist, like Rosalind Franklin, Shirley Jackson, Ada Lovelace, Marie Curie, and Katherine G. Johnson, whose story is popularized in Hidden Figures.